Cancer patients in the United States soon will have better relief from nausea caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy, thanks to a Portland-based biopharmaceutical company.

Portland-based Galena Biopharma Inc. announced today that it has licensed the U.S. rights for Zuplenz, an oral film similar to Listerine strips that contain a powerful anti-nausea medication, ondansetron. There’s a $1 billion market for the class of drugs to which the active ingredient belongs.

To take ondansetron, patients currently must swallow a pill and hold it down long enough to be digested, Galena President/CEO Mark Ahn said.

“The idea in this case is you take this film strip, you put it on your tongue, and in a few seconds you’re able to get that drug reliably on board,” Ahn said. The film strip is capable of dissolving on a person’s tongue in less than 30 seconds.
Galena plans to launch Zuplenz in early 2015. The company is paying $5 million in cash and stock to Monosol Rx, which holds the rights to the oral film technology. The license agreement also provides for fixed royalties based on net sales and pre-specified sales milestones.

Ahn said the decision to license Zuplenz is part of Galena’s overall focus on oncology treatments and products.

The FDA approved Zuplenz in 2010 for adult patients who have undergone chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. As many as 9 out of 10 chemotherapy patients and 8 out of 10 radiation therapy patients suffer from nausea and vomiting following treatment, the company said.

Ondansetron has been used as an anti-nausea medication around the world for 20 years. It works by blocking the action of serotonin, a natural substance that can induce nausea.

The news comes as a cloud sits over Galena’s head. An SEC investigation and shareholder lawsuits are pendin g that allege company officials artificially inflated the company’s stock price, then sold millions of dollars in shares. The stock later tumbled when it was revealed that Galena had paid an investor relations firm to publish favorable stories under aliases without disclosing the relationship.

Dennis Thompson
Contributing health care reporter based in Salem – Portland Business Journal